As down as I am on the NFL about now, I’m even more disappointed in myself.
See, if there’s anybody who knows that sports should be about enjoyment and fun and not frustration and angst, it should be one who spent a professional life writing about sports for a daily newspaper.
The best lesson for any sportswriter to learn is to not become emotionally invested in who wins or loses a game. You can be a fan or you can be a sportswriter, but you can’t be both if you want to do your job the way it should be done.
I’ve seen too many try, but in my eyes at least, they all failed.
But here I sit at age 66 all wound up about the way the NFC Championship between the Saints and the Rams came down. The taste is so sour in my mouth I’m not sure I can even tune in to the Super Bowl – not that anybody cares, or should care.
The big joke on me is that I’m not even all that into pro football. With each passing year as a sportswriter, I drifted further and further from those sports that I wasn’t directly responsible for covering, to the point that I rarely, these days, watch NFL until the playoffs begin.
If it’s every other year and the Panthers are on the prowl, then I might tune in. But invariably by the third time Cam Newton is called for delay of game my mind has wandered off to my music, some computer game or the two or three books I’m reading at any point in time.
But other than the Panthers, my favorite team is the Saints. I love the city, I love how the city has rallied around its team and I really love how Drew Brees and Sean Payton, et. al., rallied around the city after Katrina stomped through.
Plus they do gold and black better than any sports franchise I can think of.
So to see the Saints get so close to the Super Bowl, and to see how they were denied was such a bitter pill that now, even two days later, I’m having trouble choking it down.
Speaking of choking. . .
No, we’ll get to that later.
By now we’ve all seen the play and replays and heard all the commentary. The verdict is unanimous. The Saints got screwed. Even the perpetrator, Nickell Robey-Coleman, the cornerback who steamrolled receiver TommyLee Lewis, acknowledged that the Saints got screwed.
“Yes, I got there too early,’’ Robey-Coleman said. “I was beat, and I was trying to save the touchdown.’’
Of course that’s a bit like Bill Buckner admitting he botched the grounder in the 1986 World Series. Robey-Coleman is only telling everyone what everyone saw.
Everyone, apparently, except those who matter most – the officials responsible for making the call.
What’s mind-boggling is that replay should not have even been needed. We all saw what we saw. And when we did see the replay, the no-call was even more egregious — in that a strong case could be made that Robey-Coleman should have been called for helmet-to-helmet contact.
A distraught Peyton revealed his conversation with Al Riveron, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, and how Riveron admitted both penalties should have been called. But I have to say it bothers me to no end that the NFL has yet to officially address the issue.
And had they been called, the Saints have the ball inside the 10-yard line with 1:49 remaining. With only two timeouts remaining, the Rams would have had no way to prevent the Saints from running the clock almost out before attempting a short field goal to win the game.
Here’s where I admit that I was impressed with the Rams, and how they capitalized on their great fortune to take control in overtime. They’re a great team, and if they can beat the Patriots, they’ll be a great champion.
And I also freely acknowledge that there were other blown calls in the game. But seldom in my career have I seen a call or no-call so directly affect the outcome of a game.
My heart bleeds for the Saints and their awesome fans, the fans that simply wouldn’t let their team lose in the NFL semi-final against Philadelphia and who made life so miserable on the Rams. But to be charitable, I also feel sorry for the seven officials who called the game – and particularly the one (ostensibly either the back judge or the side judge) who was most responsible for making the call.
In their gut they have to know they they or he – and not Jared Goff or Drew Brees or Sean McVay or Sean Payton – were most responsible for extending the Rams’ season and, as Saints’ owner Gayle Benson put it, unfairly depriving one team from playing in the Super Bowl.
And that has to be a horrible feeling.
To date I’ve not seen the official or officials most responsible outed, and I’m glad for that. No need for lynch mobs, whether it be on social media or in public.
That said I really don’t see how the official or officials most responsible should ever call another NFL game. I know that’s harsh, in that we’re talking about people’s livelihood.
But to pursue a livelihood, one has to prove they’re up to the responsibility. And faced with that responsibility, at least one official and possibly two choked for all the world to see.
They can’t be counted on not choking again.
I wish I could say I felt a little better after getting all this off my chest, but in my mind, until the NFL improves its officiating it will remain a joke – a bad joke at that.
What I’d like to write is that I’ve evolved past the point where an outcome of an athletic event could get me so riled up.
But one no call in New Orleans clearly proved I’ve not.